Monday, November 4, 2013

Horrors: Skill Categories

My Horrors on the Home Front skills fall into four major categories for ease of reference more than anything else. Some of the skills also are further divided by specialisations. You can sink skill points into Drive, after all, but your skill in a car won't automatically allow you to fly a Spitfire or vice versa. Therefore with skills like Drive you have to specify a basic vehicle grouping. You might be able to drive related vessels at a higher Target Number (think DC) but you won't be able to drive vehicles that are too distinct from it. A player can always purchase further specialisations for those characters who can drive a car, pilot a ship and fly a plane.

So what are the broad categories?

Well, there's the Investigation skills which come in handy for interpreting, investigating and understanding certain situations and events. These include Academics, Document Analysis, Folklore, Medicine, Law, Navigation, Science, and Social Analysis. Navigation is broader than it sounds. It doesn't just involve finding your way to a location by road and rail. It also involves finding alternate routes to avoid congestion, identifying local pubs and their clientele, knowing where the nearest hospitals are, and broader information on cities and suburbs you haven't been within before.

There's the Social Tactics skills which are used in a sequence to convince people to do, or believe, certain things in pivotal conversations and which too many failed uses will see negative consequences. More on that in a later post. It includes Blend, Bureaucracy, Deception, Flattery, Goad, Plead, Intimidation and Reassurance. Bureaucracy covers attempts to use one's authority (real or imagined) to get things moving. Blend is used when you don't want to overwhelm people with protagonist numbers in a conversation or when you want to tag along on someone else's superior rolls when they talk their way past a bouncer.

There's the Exploratory skills that are all about interacting with one's environment and moving one's body about. These include Athletics, Crafts, Drive, Mysticism, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth and Survival. Mysticism is the skill to use when resisting supernatural effects, entering a trance, hypnotising someone else, and other such rolls.

The Combat skills are pretty varied including Archery, Blunt & Blade, Brawl, Explosives, Firearms, Grapple, Polearms and Throw. Pretty self-explanatory really.

Not sure where to put Other Language just yet. It's not really a skill. More of a perk. But it doesn't match up with occupations. Hrm...

Skills are quite funny things because you want them to be broad enough to be worth sinking ranks into without painting oneself into a tiny niche. They need to be distinct enough that protagonists can use them to mark their own differences so that certain characters can be better at certain things. They need to cover most things a player would think of doing. In other words, there should be a skill for anything. They also need to make intuitive sense without being too cumbersome. This last point is why I'm including specialisations so that you don't fall into the awkward position of having a player hop into the cockpit of a Spitfire and expect to fly it.

Players gain three additional specialisations on top of the initial specialisation they choose with each skill that requires it. These specialisations can be spent on anything (or traded for languages) though at least one of these specialisations need to be in a flavour area (or language) that is unlikely to be of paramount importance to the plot. In other words, this free specialisation could be sunk into Crafts (Embroidery) but it couldn’t be used to unlock Crafts (Mechanical Repair) as the latter could conceivably be of high importance in a plot.

There are no lists of specialisations, by the way. Just a broad suggestion for them within each skill alongside some general advice to the Game Warden to lower Target Numbers for within-specialisation choices if those specialisations are highly specific. It's one thing to pick Archaeology under Academics. It's another thing to pick Ancient Egyptian Archaeology and a whole other matter if the player choices Ancient Egyptian Archaeology - Middle Kingdom.


  1. Your list of social skills sounds a lot like something I've often wanted to see in investigative RPGs which is social skills being treated as a kind of combat allowing certain classes / characters to specialize in it.

    For example each social "combat" might be assigned a certain target value that needs to be reached depending on difficulty. Social combateers would have multiple opening gambits like your "Blend" or "Bureaucrat" (learned like spells off other social combateers or "researched" through practice) each with bonuses and penalties against different types of target (so learning about the target of a particularly difficult social combat would help choose the most suitable opener) and succeeding at the opener would be the first step.

    Failing at the opener would be bad - although a "faux pas" recovery skill might allow a retry.

    Succeeding in the opening gambit would then allow the use of booster gambits (multiple options) which add a cumulative bonus which will apply to the finishing move. Each booster gambit runs a risk of boring the target especially if they are re-used (and a novice social combateer might only start with one). Once a target is bored boosting stops. A skilled social combateer might have a dozen or more booster gambits with some more suitable than others for different targets e.g. the "talk about sports" booster might have a low chance of boring a guard or off-duty policeman but a high chance with a merry widow who responds best to flirting.

    Once boosting is over then the finishing move is rolled for and the cumulative boosting bonus is applied to get a final success or failure.

    I tried something like this in Morrowind where i tried to make a quest for a bard character to seduce six female characters in six separate towns. First they had to find a rumor to the right one and each had a characteristic like "likes trinkets" or "pious" which gave a bonus if you found out about it in advance etc.

    I suck at Morrowind quest modding so it was never finished but I like that idea generally - of an agent or bard type character who specializes in learning social combat.

    It ties into my fantasy, fantasy RPG where each class has a unique leveling path. i.e. fighters level (or the equivalent) by hitting stuff in the face but wizards need to find knowledge, thieves only get xp (or the equivalent) from the amount of gold they loot, bards/agents get xp from winning social combats etc.

    TL;DR I like social tactics list.

    1. Glad to see you like it. This particular mechanic was inspired by the Deus Ex conversational trees where you had to hit enough right notes to succeed in your goals.

      While other games had conversational trees, the latest Deus Ex also included an augmentation which revealed the NPC's increasing or decreasing perceptions of you and your goal.